June, 2012


Quite often, tenants ask me for advice on how to make money in college. There is no one answer that is right for everybody, but the story below may give you some ideas..

When I first arrived at the University of Maryland, I had no idea how I was going to pay for college. My father gave me no money at all. He was a nice guy but not a great father. I had a little money of my own, but it wasn't even enough to get me through the first year, and in those days, student loans were not as easy to get as they are today. Then a small incident occurred that gave me the idea that paid for college.

One day, I was in my dorm's recreation room. There was a small kitchen in the back of the room where a guy was trying to make mashed potatoes. He had peeled several potatoes and was trying to mash them, but without success. Every time he pressed down on a potato, it slid out from under the masher. One potato shot across the counter and hit the wall. He tried again and again, but the same thing kept happening. I laughed. He said: "Why are you laughing? Do you know what I'm doing wrong?" I said: "Are you kidding? You mean you really don't know?" He shook his head 'No', so I told him: "You don't mash potatoes and then cook them. You cook the potatoes first and then mash them." A light went on in his face. You could see that this idea had not occurred to him before.

After the mashed potato incident, a lot of guys in my dorm started coming to me for advice on cooking, mostly simple things like how to boil an egg. I realized that I had a big advantage over these guys because I already knew how to cook before I went to college. My mother died when I was 10 years old, and my father worked long hours, so I frequently had to make my own meals. Out of necessity, I learned how to cook at an early age.

The mashed potato incident gave me an idea. I started making and selling submarine sandwiches in my dorm's rec room at night. Ultimately, I made enough money selling sandwiches to pay for college. Fortunately for me, the food at the University of Maryland dining halls was just awful. The worst thing they made was their infamous 'surf cake,' an imitation Maryland crab cake. Real crabmeat was too expensive for dorm dining halls, so they made 'surf cakes' out of a combination of dried fish and bread crumbs. I sold a lot of sandwiches on 'surf cake' night.

There are far more opportunities today for a college student to make money from his dorm room than were when I went to college, mainly because of the internet. Here is an example - I had a tenant who had a girlfriend at UCLA. She ran a very profitable business from her dorm room selling Disney character jewelry to 'Disneyana' collectors around the world. She went to Disneyland every Sunday and bought things at the stores around the park. She had a season pass, so she didn't have to pay daily admission. She bought pins, bracelets, and figurines at Disneyland and then resold the stuff on E-Bay. Most of the jewelry they sell at Disneyland is made just for sale at Disney theme parks and is sold nowhere else, so she had pricing power. She made over $2,000 a month while she was in college, and when she graduated, she married my tenant, and they continued running the business together.

There are a lot of opportunities out there to make money - but you have to find them for yourself. Unfortunately, opportunities don't usually come to you.


Last month, a study conducted at the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland concluded that eating chocolate every day reduces stress. Of course it is hardly surprising that a study conducted by Nestle would conclude that eating chocolate is good for you, but nevertheless, it does seem like every few weeks there's another story in the news about the health benefits of eating chocolate. Quite often, people tell me that I should write an article about the health benefits of chocolate, but I won't do it, and here is why.

In April, 2012; a California court ordered Nutella to pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who said that she fed Nutella to her 4 year old daughter every day in the belief that Nutella is health food and and was shocked to discover that it is not. The woman says that she was deceived by the company's TV commercials that said: "Nutella is part of a tasty yet balanced breakfast when combined with milk, orange juice and wholewheat bread." In addition to paying $3 million, Nutella was also ordered to state the amount of sugar and fat on the front label of every jar sold in California and to change the wording of their TV commercials. Similar lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers of Twinkies, Pop Tarts, and Lucky Charms cereal by consumers who said that commercials for these products led them to believe that they too were health food. Sadly, we live in a highly litigious society. Anyone who makes an edible product in the United States today is taking a big risk when making a health claim about his product. In a society like this, I'm not going to make health claims about my chocolate.


Shopping at dollar stores can be a lot of fun, and you can find good values there on many products; however, you should never buy fire products at dollar stores. This includes butane lighters, votive candles, tiki torches, fire starters, matches, and lighter fluid. A lot of the things sold at dollar stores are 'gray market' products, products that were made for sale in third-world countries. These products are not usually made up to U.S. safety standards. Cheaply made butane lighters can leak gas. Cheaply made lighter fluid can explode. You should always buy brand-name fire products, and never buy fire products at dollar stores or flea markets.


"Do You Rent to Cats?" A long time ago, I got a phone call from a woman inquiring about an apartment that I had for rent. She said: "I saw your ad for an apartment on Shafter Avenue. I have a question. Do you rent to cats?" I thought that was an oddly worded question, so I phrased my answer carefully. I said: "No, I don't rent to cats, but I do rent apartments to people with cats." The woman said, in a dejected voice: "Oh, that's too bad" and hung up the phone. I never heard from her again. Although this happened over 20 years ago, I still think about this incident occasionally, and I still wonder what was on her mind.


I have been a volunteer schoolteacher at public schools in Alameda and Contra Costa counties for over 20 years. I have large collection of homework papers from former students who were - shall we say - less than U.C. Berkeley quality material. Here is one of them.

AUSTRIA. I know a lot about Austria because I've seen 'The Sound of Music' a million times. Austria is full of mountains that are covered with small white flowers called adelvise. 'The Sound of Music' is about the Trapp family. They were very rich. Before the Nazis took over the country, everybody in Austria was happy. They sang and danced and played guitars all the time. After the Germans took over Austria, the men became Nazis, and the women became nuns, so naturally, the Trapp family wanted to get out of this place! They snuck out of Austria while hundreds of people were waiting for them to sing, even though they weren't getting paid. Nuns also sing, and nobody pays them to sing either. Nuns don't dance. The Nazis couldn't catch the Trapp family because nuns took parts out of their cars. Nuns wear long black robes with really big sleeves so they can hide things in them like auto parts. You never find out whether the Trapp family got to keep their money after they left Austria. I saw another movie about Austria, but I can't remember the name of it. I remember there was a kangaroo in the movie with a gun, and it was shooting people with it. I think Crocodile Dundee was also in the movie. The movie might have been about Australia. I get Austria and Australia mixed up. Even though they sound alike, Austria and Australia are 2 different countries.

It is amazing to me how much of what people think they know about the world comes from watching movies and television shows. If you would like to see more of these homework papers, let me know. I've got lots of them.

Mark Tarses

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